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Does the Help Desk have a future?

On the slope to being a thing of the past?

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Workshop With the rapid development of service desk ‘self help’ tools and the even faster adoption of ‘community’ web sites by many users to help them work things out is the help desk on the slippery slope to becoming a thing of the past? If desktop virtualisation takes off does that mean the end of the help desk as we know it? Or are there still 1001 things that users think of doing that require a human being to help them out of a mess?

Users employing search engines and community sites to seek advice or guidance on how to fix things when they go wrong has been picked up on by a number of service desk vendors. Many are building links between them and their own systems. ‘Self-help’, especially for the ever-popular password reset request, has also now become well established in most help desk systems.

Furthermore, the virtualisation vendors are also hopeful that the increasing range of desktop virtualisation products available will help to tackle many well known challenges associated with keeping PCs operational. The hope is that rather than having to fix many of the software and configuration related problems that have bedevilled PC support for the last 20 years, the option of just reloading the user’s master desktop VDI image will solve a majority of problems at the click of a mouse.

So, will there be anything left for real people to tackle on the help desk? Oh yes.

While self help and automatic deployment options reduce today’s simple ‘fault fix’ problems, users will be able to spend more time using their business applications more effectively and efficiently. This is almost certain to lead to an increasing demand for application and process support type issues. Given that the implementation of even packaged applications varies considerably, organisation by organisation, such ‘education’ calls will be difficult for any centralised vendor support system to field. Equally, business managers will not want their more skilled ‘super users’ turning into unpaid support staff.

So the help desk will continue to do what it has always done: support users and the business processes that keep the organisation ticking over successfully. The exact nature of their tasks will change over time, but that is the way of IT, and indeed life in general. We will even wager a bet that the task of resetting user passwords will not vanish from the call log records. Many other service requests will continue to flow through the support desk even as system repair and automation become embedded in systems and eventually in the psyche of users.

Beyond this, and as acknowledged a few times by The Register readers during this workshop, we believe that the support desk can fill an important role in helping to align business with IT. The desk can act as a focal point for collecting ideas for how things might change, new service opportunities that IT can support and generally acting as a weather vane on service quality monitoring. The latter is a role that many support desks already undertake and the sophistication of such monitoring and service supervision will grow.

At the same time it is likely that the support desk will also become the main conduit for resource allocation and the charge back of resource consumption. Given such high profile roles the help desk could become not just the face of IT, but also - as we pondered here - it’s primary user communication and marketing awareness channel. Is this the way forward? Is the help desk ready to wither or set to flourish?

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